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Can I use a college mascot but not the university name or logo - example : only writing " Go Panthers " in school colors ?

Charlotte, NC |
Filed under: Education law

I want to create foam fingers saying " Go __ " for different colleges in their colors , along with my company logo for marketing purposes . Can I do this ?

Attorney Answers 5

  1. Likely, not. The Collegiate Licensing Company would take issue with any use of a college's trademark, mascot, and/or colors. Think about the reason why you want to use the mark; and that is the reason why it is prohibited. There are too many cases on point, in addition to questions on Avvo that cover this issue.

    This is not to be construed as legal advice, and I am not your attorney, A conflict check and engagement letter would necessarily be required before any retention or attorney/client privilege exists.

  2. Nice to see a post fro my hometown! I grew up in CLT...went to East Meck H.S. You have a great question. It is likely that a unique mascot display has university trademark and copyright protection. Make sure yo consult an IP attorney before venturing into this area.

  3. No. Here's my stock response to a frequently asked question:

    City names (and countries, counties, and states) are available for anyone to use. Colors are also available for anyone to use. Where you get into trouble is using a combination similar to the "trade dress" of what some sports team uses and owns and would presumably protect. Do a search here in Avvo for "team." Lots of people ask about some magic formula that they think exists that will enable them to trade just enough on a sports team's "trade dress" to get their fans to buy their products, but will be just different enough to not get them sued. What if they use only the name, in a different font. What if they use the colors but no name. What if they use a different version of the team mascot. Etc., etc. etc. And we lawyers always answer the same way. IT DEPENDS.

    What the team probably owns and will protect as their trademarks in the classes for entertainment services, clothing, toys, etc., is the team name, plus the colors. They also own the trade dress: the particular configuration of colors (plus their team name and logo using its font in the same size and placement as where their uniforms place it, etc. etc.) that acquired "secondary meaning" in the minds of consumers. That's what makes the trade dress valuable, and perhaps that's why you want to use one or more of their colors. You're free to use any city name and colors you want for any purpose, BUT just not in a way that recalls the products of any rightsholder and confuses their consumers so that people buy your products under the mistaken that they're the offical products of the team. The answer to trademark infringement questions is almost never YES or NO, it's almost always: DOES YOUR INTENDED USE CAUSE CONSUMER CONFUSION? The bottom line is, if your use calls to mind some other user because your use is similar enough to their use and might confuse some buyers, chances are good that it's an infringement. Consult an IP lawyer to run your intended use by them before you market anything.

    Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.

  4. Not without permission of the owner of the trademark and possibly copyright covering the logo. Colleges generate significant revenues from licensing their logos, and that means they expend significant funds to shut down infringers, Your use of this mascot would be viewed by most courts as flagrant, illegal infringement.

    Any time someone tries to profit by associating their business with a famous sports team or celebrity, in all likelihood this constitutes a violation of various intellectual property rights. It never ceases to amaze me how many small businesses think that somehow this may be ok----it is almost never ok and it is is a recipe for a very expensive law suit.

  5. Asked and answered here a hundred times before:

    Here are some guidelines.
    1: If it is close enough to divert customers from buying officially licensed merchandise, it is likely too close.
    2. If it uses the logo it is too close.
    3. If it uses the full team name it is too close, even if the mascot alone would not be. (e.g. LSU Tigers, Missouri Tigers, Auburn Tigers, Louisville Cardinals, Montreal Canadians, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Cardinals).
    4. If the mascot & team colors are used, too close.
    5. If the institution & school colors use, too close.
    6. If it's close enough someone would buy it instead of licensed items, it's too close.
    7. If you have to ask if it is legal, it likely isn't.
    8. If you are going to sell it at game time in a game town to game attendees it's likely too close.
    9. If you intend to do enough that people think of the team, you likely did too much.
    10. You are not the first to think of doing whatever you're thinking of doing.
    11. You can do almost anything with your own single item for your own personal use.
    12. If you do it online, around the stadium, at a publicized team event, or in large quantities you are more likely to get caught.

    In short if you are trying to get customers to buy your stuff as team souvenirs, you are asking for trouble, unless your stuff is officially licensed.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

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